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Interview: Naga Chaitanya on stepping into Bubba’s shoes as Balaraju for ‘Lal Singh Chaddha’

Actor Naga Chaitanya opens up on what it means to work with Aamir Khan in his Hindi debut ‘Lal Singh Chaddha’ and the way he handles the debacle of ‘Thank You’

Actor Naga Chaitanya opens up on what it means to work with Aamir Khan in his Hindi debut ‘Lal Singh Chaddha’ and the way he handles the debacle of ‘Thank You’

“You do not plan to work in an Aamir Khan film; it has to happen,” actor Naga Chaitanya had advised this author throughout an interview on the sidelines of his 2021 Telugu movie Love Story. As his debut Hindi movie Lal Singh Chaddha, headlined by Aamir Khan and directed by Advait Chandan, gears up for theatrical launch on August 11, Chaitanya reiterates that a few of his finest movies weren’t pre-meditated, be it his debut movie Ye Maya Chesave, the Premam Telugu remake or Majili: “When I am recognised and get to work with filmmakers whose work I have grown up watching or whose work inspires me, it fills me with a lot of confidence. In the case of Lal Singh Chaddha, I was sceptical about venturing into Hindi cinema. My language is not perfect and there is already a lot of talent out there; I kept thinking how will I be accepted. I play a South Indian boy in a North Indian setting. That gave me the confidence to take that leap of faith.” 

In Bubba’s shoes

Lal Singh Chaddha is an adaptation of Forrest Gump; actor-screenwriter Atul Kulkarni had written the screenplay 14 years in the past. During his current go to to Hyderabad, Aamir Khan revealed that it took the staff eight to 10 years to get the variation rights. Naga Chaitanya steps into the shoes of Bubba or Benjamin Buford Blue (performed by Mykelti Williamson within the English movie) who befriends Gump within the Army and goals of beginning a shrimp enterprise again dwelling: “I joined the Lal Singh Chaddha team when nearly 75% of the film was in place. When they called me, the friend’s character was defined as a South Indian. Depending on whether a Tamil or a Telugu actor enacts it, they planned to work on details such as his roots.” 

Naga Chaitanya as Balaraju in ‘Lal Singh Chaddha’
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Chaitanya’s character named Balaraju Bodi hails from Bodipalayam within the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh and meets Lal Singh through the Kargil warfare: “I found it beautiful that my character has some South Indian flavour in a North Indian setting. Unlike someone who grows up in the North, some South Indians might speak Hindi a little differently. The character has an accent and occasionally slips into Telugu.”

The actor had watched Forrest Gump as a toddler and remembers his mom listening to the soundtrack usually. Chaitanya says, “The album cover was the iconic image of Tom Hanks seated on the bench, looking sideways.” He revisited the movie after he received a name from Aamir’s workplace: “They weren’t sure if I would agree to play a brief part. Rewatching the film made me say yes. Balaraju might be on screen for 20 to 30 minutes but emotionally he influences a large part of Lal’s journey.”

Blank canvas

Naga Chaitanya on the sets of ‘Lal Singh Chaddha’

Naga Chaitanya on the units of ‘Lal Singh Chaddha’

Starting on a clean canvas in Hindi cinema, 12 years after his debut in Telugu, is one thing Chaitanya was recreation for: “When I look back at my work, there are times when I am embarrassed; that is how I have grown as an actor. I have had successes and failures and they have taught me immensely. This film will give me tremendous exposure and I am happy to present myself to a larger audience at this stage of my career.”

However, there was preliminary nervousness. He obtained a duplicate of the script six months forward of filming. The pre-production workshops and conversations with Advait, Aamir and others helped him shed inhibitions and be clear about his character: “On set, I did not have to worry about getting my lines right. It flowed easily. We had discussed everything including costumes to locations and specific scene breakdowns.”

Each day, they’d take inventory of the day’s footage, which Chaitanya says is uncommon in most movie models. “Normally directors would not show us the footage till the film is over. But watching the day’s footage helped me observe where I needed to improve and the following day would be better.” Given an opportunity, he would like to work with such precision and planning for his future movies.

Naga Chaitanya with Aamir Khan

Naga Chaitanya with Aamir Khan

For his Hindi debut, he’s glad that Aamir Khan will likely be doing the heavy lifting as far as field workplace stress is anxious: “I am fortunate that Aamir is taking that responsibility. I am sure there is huge pressure on him, but who better than Aamir to take it on?”

Talking about field workplace reception, broach the subject of his new Telugu movie Thank You which opened not too long ago to a chilly reception and Chaitanya disarmingly concedes, “Frankly it has been shocking and scary. I haven’t had much time to process it but as far as I can see, there were some flaws in the writing, the way we packaged the film and how my character turned out. We have to accept that the audience is comfortable watching certain kinds of films on OTT. Unless there is phenomenal talk from the morning show on day one, people do not visit the theatres. We learn and move on.”

Theatrical and digital codecs

The current Telugu movie Thank You was his second collaboration with director Vikram Kumar after Manam. The duo have additionally been working collectively for Dhootha, an internet collection for Amazon Prime Video: “I loved the long-form of storytelling with room to showcase different layers of a character. I had always wanted to play a part with grey shades and was able to do that. As an actor, I crave maximum exposure and I am keen to explore both theatrical and digital formats.”

Ask Chaitanya how he would urge somebody who has grown up watching Forrest Gump to watch Lal Singh Chaddha and he says, “Just watch it. The framework is the same but the events in the adaptation are true to Indian culture. You might walk into the theatre being aware of Forrest Gump but you won’t leave the hall thinking only of the original. I am confident that India will connect to Lal Singh the way America connected to Gump. I would rather not debate now, one has to watch it to understand.”

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